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Work on Highway 101 Commuter Lanes About to Begin in Novato

$50 million project will connect carpool lanes to north and south.

Freeway commuters have anticipated remedies to Highway 101 traffic backups for decades, and a new fix is on the way soon.

A two-year, $50 million Caltrans project to extend carpool lanes through Novato broke ground on Thursday, and it is expected to reduce driver frustration, vehicle congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

Several dozen Caltrans officials, construction managers, elected officials and other government leaders were on hand for the traditional golden shovel ceremony at the Park and Ride lot off Rowland Boulevard. The Novato City Council was represented by Carole Dillon-Knutson, and the Marin County Board of Supervisors was represented by District 5’s Judy Arnold. Representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, state Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblyman Jared Huffman joined in.

Caltrans District 4 Director Bijan Sartipi provided the basics on the first phase of the Marin Sonoma Narrows Project on Highway 101 that will add 3.2 miles of northbound lane between Highway 37 and Atherton Avenue and 1.6 miles of southbound lane between Novato Creek (between Rowland and De Long) and Highway 37.

The high-occupancy vehicle lanes eventually will be part of a continuous lane between Novato and Mill Valley.

The first phase will have little to do with what local residents call the Narrows — the part of 101 north of Atherton Avenue where three lanes narrow to two. Caltrans knows that is the real bottleneck for those heading toward Petaluma, but the HOV lanes south of there are the first step to traffic relief, officials said. Widening the road between Novato and Petaluma is scheduled to start in a few years.

Of the $50 million for the first phase, $31 million comes from Proposition 1B, approved by voters in 2006 for transportation projects, Caltrans said.

Tom Rollison July 15, 2011 at 01:16 AM
Wait. So then there will be four lanes getting choked down to two? That is the dumbest idea I ever heard. Why do they have to make it worse before they make it better? Fix the narrows!!!
Phil Maher July 15, 2011 at 04:10 AM
No kidding, Tom. The Narrows is north of Atherton, and that's where the problem lies. Instead they dance around and add to what promises to be just an extension of the HOV lane that they plan to charge single passenger cars to use. And the real objectives of "transportation solutions" become even clearer. Want to fix the Narrows? It's really as simple as installing a temporary K-wall, adding a couple feet of base rock and a barrier to the median, then paving the whole thing over. Voila, three lanes, no more choke point, problem solved. Once upon a time, the people who ran these sorts of projects actually knew how to identify a problem and deal with it using a level of intellect that wasn't severely hobbled by the intervention, and inherent stupidity, of politicians who probably couldn't even figure out how to kill the weeds between the cracks in their driveways.
Eric Lucan July 15, 2011 at 04:23 AM
One unforeseen benefit - I have never seen the Rowland Park & Ride lot look so nice. I park there every day and have seen crews out there for the past few days cleaning up all of the weeds and sweeping the lot. Guess they had to get it ready for the ground breaking.
Susan Clark July 15, 2011 at 01:19 PM
I wonder what the Government was charged for all the pretty ground breaking shovels. I'm sure whatever the amount, it was worth it. They all look so cute with matching shovels.
Christine July 15, 2011 at 01:23 PM
With our city debt, It should have been a BYOS event!
Scott Stokes July 15, 2011 at 04:11 PM
You did a much better job of reporting this than the IJ. Please tell us exactly where the 50 million $$$ will go for. you state: "$50 million project will connect carpool lanes to north and south." I think a more descriptive way of saying that is "extent..." not connect. I like Tom's comment, "there will be four lanes getting choked down to two? That is the dumbest idea I ever heard." I guess they have to do the narrows in chunks.
david kurland July 15, 2011 at 07:12 PM
Are we going to have the same inferior crap put down by the interlopers from the East Bay that are making the Civic Center to 37 101 ugly but especially dangerous since lanes do not match in height and the groves left by these faulty lanes make for a dangerous condition. I believe we have to offer opportunities for "special people " to be part of the general work force. It is the right thing to do, but not at the risk of safety of us all. Maybe our elected officials might think of their constituents rather than whatever else they may be getting from their holding their trusted elected or appointed offices; ya think Cal-Trans?
Dave July 15, 2011 at 07:46 PM
The improvement on 101 through San Rafael is fantastic, except for one thing. Southbound Central San Rafael exit has only one lane. This causes traffic to slow to a crawl in the slow lane with drivers in the other lanes affected by other lanes unable to merge to the slow lane to exit. Rework the exit so it has 2 exit lanes and that would fix the problem.
Dave July 15, 2011 at 07:56 PM
I believe the Novato Narrows plan includes a complete rework and adding a series of frontage roads. I would add the highway lanes ASAP and do the frontage roads 20 years from now if at all. The limited traffic that merge and exit on to 101 is not worth the huge additional cost. The most bang for the buck, traffic relief and safest course is to not delay the extra lane on the highway and forget about the frontage road.
Gabriel Barkin July 24, 2011 at 04:06 PM
Although I agree that 4 lanes down to 2 is not ideal, here's a different perspective: I live at the Atherton exit, and there are a ton of cars like mine adding to the afternoon choke each day who are just trying to get off at Roland and Atherton/San Marin. Anything that gets those cars off the road sooner will reduce the choke. The added lane will clearly allow more movement through the northern end of Novato, and if anything will ease congestion at the chokepoint.
tony July 24, 2011 at 09:02 PM
Really? Wait 20 years to build the frontage roads? Wow, so I guess the property owners won't have access to their own property for 20 years? I'm sure they'll be thrilled. The reason for the frontage roads is to allow the access that they're entitled to. Buying the right of way from private landowners is part of what drove up the cost.
Larry October 14, 2011 at 11:35 AM
So much money has been wasted "studying" the narrows over many years that the whole thing is outdated already. When the thing is finished the situation will be just like it was before.

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